From the dawn of World War II, Jeeps have been constructed of steel: a steel body on a steel frame. Over the last day, a lot of news has come out of the Paris Auto Show about Sergio Marchionne’s suggestion that the next Jeep could be aluminum. But that’s not really the big news. The huge revelation is that it might be a unit-body built somewhere other than Toledo, Ohio.
According to Automotive News, Marchionne said that the debates that raged inside Ford Motor Co. about adopting an aluminum body on the redesigned 2015 F-150 pickup “are going on inside our house now.”
“One of the things we are debating is whether this thing requires going into a material other than steel,” Marchionne told reporters.
Given the F-150’s 700-lb. weight loss, switching to aluminum would certainly help Jeep make federal fuel economy targets that will increase to a corporate 54.5 mile per gallon average by 2025.
Aluminum isn’t unheard of in vehicles like the Wrangler. The Land Rover Series vehicles — essentially a British version of the original Jeep — as far back as 1948 used bodies made of an aluminum/magnesium alloy called Birmabright, because steel was so heavily rationed following the close of hostilities after World War II.
Marchionne also suggested that the Wrangler won’t be using the current Pentastar V-6, and will probably be opting for something with forced induction:
“We firmly believe that we have to downsize the engines that are going into the Wrangler, just in terms of displacements, and then increase the capabilities by putting turbos in and doing other things to that engine,” Marchionne said.
“This requires a complete rethink of the architecture. And before we start committing capital to particular places, we need to make sure that we don’t spend an inordinate amount of money trying to get it done,” Marchionne continued.
That suggests two things that are definitely going to be hard for the Wrangler faithful to come to terms with:
One: “If the solution is aluminum,” Marchionne said, “then I think unfortunately that Toledo is the wrong place, the wrong setup to try and build a Wrangler, because it requires a complete reconfiguring of the assets that would be cost-prohibitive.” Toledo, Ohio, Jeep’s home since the days of Willys-Overland. The only time Wranglers and CJs weren’t built here was during a short period of AMC ownership in the 1980s, when it moved briefly to Ontiario.
Two: “Complete reconfiguration” suggests that the next Wrangler might not be built with traditional body-on-frame architecture, but will switch to a unibody structure.
Jeeps are more heavily modified and off-roaded than any vehicle in production today, and part of the reason that they take so well to modifications is that they’re built with a very strong body-on-frame structure. Removing that removes one of the major reasons that Wranglers have such a rabid fan base.